Why soft plastics are so good for walleye

Over the past several years I have preached about using soft plastics for walleye fishing. Today, as live bait becomes more inconvenient (it still works great) because of regulations, it’s sometimes easier to just hit the lake with a handful of plastic baits and not have to worry about keeping your bait alive or getting into trouble.

My introduction to using soft plastics for walleye, mostly on a jig head, but sometimes on a drop-shot rig, came from all the time I spend bass fishing. As a youngster I caught all kinds of walleyes on my bass baits and then as I started guiding and fishing all over the region, I continued to catch walleyes on my bass baits.
Eventually, I pretty well stopped using live bait at all, except for the odd guide trip maybe with really inexperienced anglers or in tough weather conditions. At this point, I can’t remember the last time I had meat in my boat.

We are spoiled because we have excellent walleye fishing on Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, as well as countless other waterbodies across Sunset Country so it’s usually not too difficult to find fish to catch. I try to follow the seasonal movements of walleyes, starting shallower, near spawning areas early in the season, then progressing towards main lake structure as we get later in the season.

Soft plastic baits like these small swimbaits rigged up a jig head work great for walleyes throughout the open water season.

There are a few keys to finding success using soft plastics. These are just some things that I think are important to know, not only for the walleye anglers out there but for anglers that use soft baits for any species.

The most important thing for me is the baits must be rigged nice and straight on your jig head or hook. That means no bends, kinks or balled-up parts in the plastic. If the baits are not straight, they’ll spin and twirl, and not look natural. They’ll also twist the heck out of your line. So always make sure the baits are nice and straight.

I also like to super glue my baits on the jigs. This prolongs the life of the baits significantly and then if you get a bite and miss the fish, your bait is not going to be pulled down on the jig, so you might get another shot from the same fish or another one from a school. All you need is a drop or two of glue on the collar of the jig and it will hold your bait up really well.

When it comes to fishing the soft baits, there are two styles of baits that I use most often. I like bottom contact baits like a Ned rig and I also like minnow imitating baits like a jerkshad or swimbait that I’ll reel slowly through the water column.

Sometimes you have to let the fish tell you what they want. Some days, you just have to get your bait near the walleyes and they’ll race over and grab it. Some days, shaking a Ned rig on the bottom is the best tactic, while other days, they like you to snap the bait along the bottom, creating a reaction bite as the bait speeds by the fish. If you have electronics, you can watch your bait on your electronics and see how fish react to your bait as you fish. Otherwise, it’s trial and error to see what they want most each day you’re on the water.

As far as choosing colours, my attitude is that finding fish and putting your bait in front of fish is the more important than the colour, but we have all experienced those days in the boat when our friend has what seems to be the hot colour. These preferences can change daily as well. I like to use natural colours for the most part, choosing natural minnow imitating or white shades for the minnow baits and green pumpkin or brown shades for the bottom baits, to imitate crayfish.